A handle on the beetles, for now
Fire Island National Seashore biologist Jordan Raphael looks at one of the 50 more pitch pines infected with the southern pine beetle that will require felling.

IB/Leuzzi

A handle on the beetles, for now

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
12/10/2015


At this point, 50 infected pitch pines filled with hibernating southern pine beetles are being monitored for eventual takedown at the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach.

“We took down 692 trees in total,” said Fire Island National Seashore biologist Jordan Raphael on a recent Sunday. “That’s just for the William Floyd Estate. We also cut 350 trees down at Sailors Haven. We found three new areas since April on Fire Island, so we’re utilizing early detection and rapid response, so you can get to the infestation and nip it in the bud.     

“The evidence in areas of suppression,” he added, “is that we slowed the beetle down.”

The southern pine beetles that swarmed onto thousands of pitch pines on Long Island this spring has been managed, for now, by agencies such as FINS, the DEC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, by surveying areas, identifying the trees infected and marking them, then cutting them down in cooler months, which disorients the insects so they’re not as voracious when they emerge. It also slows down their pheromones, a scent that’s a call to action.

These insects are resourceful, scientists admit, and many times stymie the best of them.

But the agencies couldn’t utilize their suppression method without funding aid. FINS received a $97,500 U.S. Forest Service grant earlier this year, enabling 14 members of an arborist response team to fly in from 11 different National Park Service locations this April. The money also paid for two student conservation interns and a biotech college graduate, who are monitoring FINS areas. 

FINS was waiting to hear about another grant for the 50 trees; a $150,000 grant they applied for in August, Raphael said. 

“The public has invested $1 billion in protecting the pine barrens and similar areas,” said Long Island Pine Barrens executive director Richard Amper. “It would be penny wise and pound foolish to abandon the commitment to clean water the public has made by refusing to spend as little as $3 million a year to manage these beetles.”

Rob Cole, Long Island Region 1 DEC incident commander for the southern pine beetle, was also waiting to hear further about aid. “Our crew is out there now,” Cole said of Hubbard County Park near Flanders. “I expect there are only 100 more infected trees.”

The DEC has addressed 2,373 trees in total, at Henry’s Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest — the first site they addressed — and Munn’s Pond, both in Hampton Bays, and Hubbard County Park, he said. There are 10 DEC crewmembers addressing the issue, including sawyers, a research scientist for aerial surveys and two that gather data. For the big takedown in April, 10 sawyers from the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact flew in and cut down the marked trees for 14 days. Their grant from the U.S. Forest Service was for $250,000, Cole said, and they were awaiting money from other grants to come through that included state funding, a total altogether of $150,000.

Cole spoke of the project’s urgency. “I’m not aware of any other projects where this many trees have been taken down,” he said. “We’ll keep attacking it as long as we have money. But if we do nothing, the southern pine beetle will roll across Long Island and take out the pitch pines.”

Cole said the agency utilizes an aerial survey first with a research scientist, especially now. “There’re a lot of oak trees mixed in and if we let the oak leaves fall off, we can see affected pitch pines, which have a brown crown,” he said. “Then we do a ground survey of those areas mapped and bring sawyers in as we find them.

“Our aerial surveys have detected in Suffolk County that those areas we addressed were the largest, densest areas hit,” Cole explained. “There are smaller infestations, but we thought the eastern end of the Pine Barrens got us the bigger bang for the buck.”

All the agencies share their information and data. “We’re all on the same team,” he said.

Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge biologist Monica Williams said the Shirley refuge was beginning additional suppression this week on the White Oak trail, a popular hiking spot. Williams said about 1,300 trees were taken down in March and April, mostly affected trees, but there were areas that were overstocked where trees were taken down as well. The tree cutting was also paid for by a U.S. Forest Service grant for $200,000.

 “We’ll be doing about 100 trees this time, just those specific trees that have the beetles,” Williams said, adding that their U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency has applied for additional funding as well.